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Antibiotic resistance in children on the rise

By | Posted by Akanksha Agnihotri
Nov 18, 2023 01:20 PM IST

Antibiotics are the preferred treatment for children with an infection. But they are becoming increasingly ineffective.

When children suffer from ear infections, sepsis or meningitis brought on by a bacterial infection, they are frequently prescribed antibiotics. But a recent study by the University of Sydney found that many of the antibiotics tested had less than 50% effectiveness. This was attributed to antibiotic resistance, which means bacteria no longer respond to antibiotic treatment. Worldwide, antibiotic resistance has been on the rise for the past 15 years. However, new and effective treatments have not yet been developed.Antibiotic resistance is especially dangerous for infants and young children. As long as their immune systems aren't fully developed, they are less able to ward off infections.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as they say(Mascha Brichta/dpa/picture alliance)

When treating infections with an antibiotic, it's not only important to use the correct type, but also to stick to the right doses. That's easier said then done when it comes to infants and toddlers, who often take antibiotics in the form of syrup. After all, it's easier to convince a small child to swallow a spoonful of sugary liquid than it is to get them to down a hard pill.

Antibiotics: Treatment of choice

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Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for severe cases of bacterial infection. They act quickly, taking effect in up to 48 hours, and can inhibit bacterial growth and reproduction or kill off bacterial cells. Sooner or later, many infants and children come down with an ear infection. The World Health Organization estimates that ear infections are a frequent and widespread ailment among children in all parts of the world.

Middle ear infections are accompanied by the swelling of mucous membranes, especially in the delicate eustachian, or auditory tubes leading to the throat. As these tubes become obstructed and mucus is no longer able to drain out, pressure builds on the eardrum, which can be very painful to small children. Antibiotics can often deliver fast relief.

Are there alternatives to antibiotics?

Most experts agree there are currently no reliable alternatives. Treatments for certain infections can be supplemented with antimicrobial plants and household remedies. Saline solutions can sometimes help alleviate respiratory infections, while sleeping on an onion in a sock is a classic folk remedy for ear infections.

However, antibiotics are still the best and most reliable solution. Cases of sepsis, or blood poisoning, for example, must be treated immediately. Patients left untreated can suffer septic shock, followed by organ failure and death.

Sepsis can stem from an external wound, when microbes invade the blood stream or the lymphatic system. From there, they can affect the entire body if left unchecked, causing a medical emergency. But such instances are rare.

Proper diagnosis comes first

Antibiotics can only be used to treat bacterial, not viral, infections. That's why a correct diagnosis is such an important step in providing appropriate care.

The situation in Southeast Asia and the Pacific is especially alarming. Each year, thousands of children in Indonesia and the Philippines die because they have no access to the same range of antibiotics as in Europe, for example, or because the antibiotics available to them are ineffective.

This makes proper diagnosis all the more crucial. Pathogens must be identified correctly, in order to know their susceptibility to certain treatments and to prescribe an antibiotic with the narrowest possible spectrum.

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